Shoulder health is on the mind of every pitcher, quarterback, tennis player and other overhead athlete. It supports the explosive overhead skills you perform in your respective sport, but it's also one of the first joints to break down.
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body but that comes at the cost of stability. The muscles, tendons and ligaments supporting the joint must be working properly and in sync with each other. If there's a problem, something will pick up the slack and your risk of injury will skyrocket.
According to Dr. Matt Stevens, physical therapist and owner of Pure Physio (Strongsville, Ohio), one of the most common issues is an imbalance between external and internal shoulder rotation.
To understand the difference between the two motions, pin your right elbow to your side and bend your elbow to 90 degrees. Keeping your elbow pinned to your side bring your forearm to the right away from your body to externally rotate your shoulder. Now bring your forearm to the left toward your midline to internally rotate your shoulder.
"Oftentimes we see excessive external rotation and limited internal rotation. This creates tightness in the backside of the shoulder and in the joint capsule underneath," Stevens explains. "This can create a lot of irritation in the tendons in the front of the shoulder and at the edge of the shoulder."
Irritation leads to pain. And pain leads to impaired performance. Not ideal for an athlete attempting to throw a 90-plus MPH fastball.
To correct this problem, you simply need to increase external rotation. Stevens' go-to stretch for baseball players and other overhead athletes is the Side-Lying Sleeper Stretch.
Side-Lying Sleeper Stretch
Perform this stretch daily if you're an overhead athlete. Ideally, you should be able to rotate your arm so that your hand is about fist-width from the ground.
- Lie on your side with your hips and knees slightly bent and your legs stacked on each other. Position your upper body so your torso is perpendicular to the ground and your shoulders are stacked on top of each other. Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Position your bottom arm to the side so it's perpendicular to your body and bend your elbow to 90 degrees so your forearm is vertical.
- Push your wrist to the ground with your top arm so you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Don't apply too much pressure and keep your shoulders stacked. Hold for the specified duration.
Sets/Duration: 4-5x20-30 sec. each side
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